Wien: Exclamation Marks

by Elise Wien | 10/5/16 12:29am

It is 6:12 a.m. on the day of this article being due, and I am in Starbucks, starting up a new document.

Procrastination-as-escape would be a fitting theme right now.

A little Miranda Priestly voice goes off in my head. Procrastination? At Dartmouth? Groundbreaking.

Quick escape from that line of thinking: I’m not proud to be in this Starbucks, what with Hanover supporting Dirt Cowboy, Umpleby’s and newly, The Skinny Pancake (quick escape from that line of thinking: Did you know Anaïs Mitchell played there last week? That’s kind of cool! (QEFTLoT: I am ambivalent about that exclamation point, I do feel “!” about this but I’m hesitant to put a “!” in a published column, so early on. I don’t want to be “!!!!!!” Girl, you know? (QEFTLoF: Nearly every time I use an exclamation point I think of a satirical list by Sandra Newman, published on McSweeney’s, the first entry of which says, “A woman is born with all the exclamation points she will use in her lifetime.” This is funny until I imagine myself trying to write an exclamation point at forty and my hand gnarling into a curve, and then what, all my excited sentences turn to questions? And I write in uptalk? (Question marks? At middle age? Groundbreaking???))))

“Now, Snively, did you just end that sentence in a period?”

“Why yes, Blively, I did.”

“I do say, that sentence inspires the height awe and does, verily, cover my flesh in goose-pimples and send a-shivers up my spine. Surely you would like to end it in a POINT OF EXCLAMATION!!!!!!!!”

But I digress.

Starbucks is the only place to get coffee in Hanover at 6 a.m. aside from Lou’s, but Lou’s isn’t exactly a laptop kind of place. I just get kind of a no-laptops vibe while I’m there and feel like every Upper Valley patron thinks of me as some dirty millennial, as in, why don’t you just go to Starbucks if you want to type on your newfangled machine designed with planned obsolescence and made in a place that likely doesn’t pay its workers fair wages and is just a piece of early e-waste and alienates writers from their means of knowledge-production?

So I’m in Starbucks. In line, two men talk about the weather:

“I saw on the internet this morning that it’s supposed to snow this week.”

“Yes, it said snow in the Farmer’s Almanac.”

The Farmer’s Almanac? As in, a pocket guide to weather patterns and frost dates? I am thrilled. Later, I google Farmer’s Almanac, turns out they do publish a yearly guide with long-term forecasting. They also have a website and a Twitter. Their latest tweet is “Current #MoonPhase: Waxing Crescent (8% of full),” with a photo of the Moon Phase Calendar.

I check myself for a second. Sometimes I get caught up in the quaintification of the Upper Valley, where I draw a mental brushstroke over all its people and group them together as folks who read the Almanac, tap maple trees and live off the land. Intellectualism exists here, as does rural poverty, as does work and play and a population that identifies as heterogeneous.

So, Starbucks, 7:05 a.m. I took a quick break to winnow down the tabs in my browser, one of which was open to a New York Times article entitled “Why Do Anything? A Meditation on Procrastination.” Procrastination-as-escape, right. My friend Marina, an artist, once told me she is not upset that she devotes more time to her creative work than her academic work because this means once she graduates she’ll still have something that excites her. This outlook makes me feel better about putting my creative work at the forefront.

Sometimes, though, procrastination does not take the form of creative work and instead takes the form of pure foolishness.

I think back to last week, when, instead of doing homework, my roommates and I pushed two beds together to form a megabed, and we all piled on it to watch “Law and Order: SVU.” I do not like this show, I think the plots are forced and the detectives make some leaps in reasoning that the viewer is just supposed to go along with. In this episode, Stabler and Benson investigate a ritualistic murder. At the crime scene there are Santeria candles, so they visit the Center for the Study of Santeria and press its manager about candle sales and also demand a list of Center members, and overall demonize Santeria with an unhealthy dose of primitivism. Turns out the murder was done in a faux-ritual style, because the murderer had bought a child as a sex slave while his wife was away and, upon learning that his wife would return early, decided that killing the child in Central Park was the easiest way to cover this up. The episode also included an international child slave trafficking ring and a white woman who travels to West Africa to add to her gallery’s art collection. It was a lot. Corinne and I groaned through the problematic parts of the episode (groaning and continuing to watch is our way of critiquing the episode within the framework of critical indigenous and postcolonial epistemologies (QEFTLoT, a friend in my Comp. Lit. senior seminar has made it his mission to use the word “epistemology” in every class, and has been so far successful)).

I avoid watching this TV at home because my parents, one a lawyer and one a judge, watch crime shows the way some people watch hockey.

“Isn’t that out of your jurisdiction?” My dad, to the TV.

“Don’t you need a subpoena for that?” My mom, three scenes later.

Sometimes it gets even more shameful than “Law & Order: SVU,” as in two nights ago, when I sat by Kayuri, sick in bed, and we watched “Say Yes to the Dress” together on her laptop. One woman was bent on getting two wedding dresses, one to please herself, and one to please her groom. Kayuri and I watch, two intersectional feminist hockey fans.

“Get whatever dress you want, who cares what your husband thinks.”

“$13,000 for two dresses, that’s ridiculous. But there is societal pressure to please all parties. Plus there might be a weird dynamic depending on who’s paying. I hope she doesn’t feel guilty…she should wear what she wants…though she is buying into this historically patriarchal and exchange-based practice, so who knows.”

QEFTLoT — a young woman just walked into Starbucks with what is clearly an omelet from Collis. I admire her boldness.

QEFTLoT — a meditation on escapist TV, from my iPhone notes:

It came to pass that the only mode of satisfaction in this society was feeling better than the other people who falsely believed themselves to be satisfied by this society. To have the option of commodity fetishism, without engaging in it, to watch “Say Yes to the Dress” and feel pity for the unenlightened throwing down $5,000 for fluffy fabric supporting archaic institutions, and then to have, in turn, some self-serving part of ourselves feed off of this pity and feel good about ourselves in this option. And this is, still, a version of “choice is freedom.”

I go to the bathroom in Starbucks thinking about what it would be like to spend that kind of money on a dress, then thinking about how I haven’t applied for a single job yet. In the restroom, a sign: “STARBUCKS is Now Accepting Applications for Baristas!” The benefits include dental, and working there right away makes you “Immediately Eligible for free beverages during your shift.” Best of all, the poster has a total of four exclamation points.